Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The East Coast Rapist Strikes Again

by Pat Brown

I just read about the East Coast serial rapist who has been plaguing the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, Rhode Island, and Connecticut since 1997. Last Halloween, he resurfaced. This elusive predator grabbed three teenage girls at gunpoint and raped one after the other. DNA links the rapist to twelve rapes, and he is suspected in at least seventeen attacks.


The police went public after the first three assaults in Prince George's County. They told the media there was a bicycle-riding rapist on the loose with a gun. Then he changed his MO. He got rid of the bike and started using a knife. The victims noted he had a chipped front tooth and there was a composite sketch of him. Some detectives working serial sex cases are reluctant to give out specific information to the public for fear a offender will change his MO, making it harder to link him to future crimes, but I say Prince George's County did exactly the right thing. The best way to catch a serial predator is to give as much information as possible (excluding anything that wouldn't help with identification and would be more useful if withheld) to help the public identify someone they know that meets the description. Without this information, stranger rapes and homicides leave detectives often stuck with a whole community of possible suspects and no way to narrow down the list. Tips from citizens can make all the difference.

Going public with as many clues as possible is the best way to nail a serial predator outside of a lucky DNA match from the offender bank, or the criminal doing something criminally stupid like getting stopped by a cop for dead tags when the body is still in the car.

One very fascinating case proves how going public with pertinent information could make a major difference. In the 1980s, out in northern California, the so-called I-5 strangler was giving police a run for their money. By the third crime, it was clear there really was a signature (a fairly rare element of serial murderers regardless of what Hollywood tells us). The killer liked to cut up the victims' clothes - just chop, chop, chop, for the fun of it, not to remove them from the bodies, but just because he enjoyed doing it.

Sacramento County Homicide Lieutenant Ray Biondi immediately thought this would be a great piece of information to release to the public, but his department balked. "This is something only the killer would know," they objected, "and this secret clue will help prove he is the right guy if he confesses to that in an interview." Biondi disagreed; he knew one of the best ways to catch a serial killer was to put out recognition keys for someone in the public to connect to someone they know. "Sometimes you have to give up something to get something. Revealing, not concealing, is the name of the game," Biondi says.

Bruce Henderson details the case in his exceptional book, Trace Evidence. Ray Biondi finally wore them down. The information about the weird cut-up clothes went public. It turns out that this information was known to the killer's juvenile parole officer and his father (although they ended up finding it in his police report). One of the possible suspects, Roger Kibbe (above left), was caught stealing women's clothing off clotheslines thirty years earlier -- and cutting them up. If that description hadn't been in the police files, investigators would have needed someone to remember it and give them a call.

Another excellent method to dealing with serial rapes and homicides is to bring in a criminal profiler. The best time is early in the series, but anytime is better the never. The profiler can put in the time that most detectives working the cases don't have; they can spend hours and hours analyzing the crime scene and forensic evidence, reconstructing the crimes to uncover offender behaviors, and working to link crimes through MO and signature aspects exhibited by the perpetrator. They can review suspect lists and reread statements, performing statement analysis to ferret out deception and overlooked bits of information that might forward the investigation. They will review police reports and victims' descriptions of the crime and their attacker (if they are alive) and look for behavioral patterns in the offender's choice of victims, behavioral patterns of the victims which might have made them targets of the predator, and examine geographical patterns that might indicate where the offender has lived, worked, traveled, and how this identifies him and links him to the crimes.

Support for the investigative team over the long time period these cases are worked is imperative. This is another critical aspect of handling a series of sex crimes. Information overload, case management issues, burnout, and community and media pressure, take a toll on the team. Serial rapes and homicides are the most difficult of crimes to solve because they usually involve offenders with no or little connection to the victim and with serial homicides there is often no witness to any part of the event. The offenders may change victim type, methodology, and jurisdiction. There are often months, if not years, between related crimes and each crime may be handled by a different detective in the department, or detectives from different jurisdictions and they may not even know their cases are related unless DNA links them or someone realizes they may indeed be connected. Then a task force might be created to pull the cases together and the cases looked at together. If no progress appears to be made, the detectives can become extremely discouraged and lose the initiative to keep plugging away at it, year after thankless year.

If the best techniques are followed in handling serial homicide cases, there is a higher chance of seeing a successful outcome, but, even so, sometimes you hit a dead end. And sometimes when all has gone quiet and you think the perpetrator of a series of rapes or sexual homicides has quit, been incarcerated, or died, he pops up again. The East Coast Rapist has done just that, resurfacing after years of quiet. It's time to pull out all the files again and start the process over. Hopefully, this time, the East Coast Rapist will be identified and put out of business.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

The police fear telling the public there is a rapist especially serial for the reason people will over react instead of take action. The public needs to be informed to stay safe.

California Girl said...

Over a year ago, an elderly woman disappeared in the Escondido, CA area. No trace of her has ever been found. They think there may be a link between her and John Gardner.

Anonymous said...

"And we can't allow years in between the crimes, or we won't catch killers very quickly."

LOL, astute observation Pat.

shthar said...

There is no danger of shark attack. Enjoy the beach!

Anonymous said...

I have always said that the police should put out as much information as possible to the public. Something someone may have seen or heard might trigger a memory. I think that someone knows him, but may be in fear of calling.
One thing that sticks in my mind about this case is there was one lady who said she thought he heard his voice in the store where she worked. She said the mans voice scared her. He was a suspicious man trying to shoplift baby clothes. THen he disappeared. Until 2006. Could that man be the serial rapist? Did the police look into that night of the shoplifter? Did they arrest him? And if they did, did they release him? Any ideas?

Anonymous said...

I have always said that the police should put out as much information as possible to the public. Something someone may have seen or heard might trigger a memory. I think that someone knows him, but may be in fear of calling.
One thing that sticks in my mind about this case is there was one lady who said she thought he heard his voice in the store where she worked. She said the mans voice scared her. He was a suspicious man trying to shoplift baby clothes. THen he disappeared. Until 2006. Could that man be the serial rapist? Did the police look into that night of the shoplifter? Did they arrest him? And if they did, did they release him? Any ideas?

Blogger said...

TeethNightGuard is offering precise fitting and highest quality custom made dental guards.